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Crisis Intervention Team helps Washington County students

February 12, 2002

Crisis Intervention Team helps Washington County students



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI
kimy@herald-mail.com


Grief and anguish aren't emotions that go away by themselves, according to Paul Wolverton, crisis team leader for Washington County Schools.

If people don't talk out their problems, the stress of keeping them inside can show up in illnesses and misbehavior, he said.

"Keeping a stiff upper lip is not mentally healthy," he said.

Wolverton, heads a 12-member crisis intervention team whose members counsel students, teachers, support staff and administrators in Washington County's schools when a major accident or death connected to the schools occurs.

Some people respond to tragedy with tears or want to talk, while others become withdrawn or aggressive, said Julie Van Metre, team member and counselor at Eastern Elementary School.

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Still others show no immediate reaction but months later will fail a series of tests or begin acting out, she said.

The team was needed six times last year, Wolverton said. The number of team members sent to a school differs based on the scope and type of tragedy, Wolverton said.

"How students react generally depends on how the student died and, unfortunately, how well known they were," Wolverton said.

Wolverton said the best thing for students going through a tragedy is to maintain their routine and stay in school, he said.

Sometimes a tragedy happens and people rush to take their kids out of school. Then they drop them off at an empty home and go back to work, said Karen D. Ehrhart, crisis team member and pupil personnel worker.

Schools provide a support system that students need in stressful situations, she said.

"Kids take comfort in that. It's where their friends are," Ehrhart said.

When a tragedy occurs, the crisis team meets and arranges a plan of action that includes preparing a letter to send home to parents explaining possible reactions their children may experience and counseling with students, faculty and others.

"We got through the stages of what they're feeling, how it happened and how to deal with it," Ehrhart said.

The crisis team will take over classes if a teacher is too grief-stricken to work. They will attend the victim's viewing or funeral and speak to the parents or community groups with which the victim may have been involved.

Crisis team members try to turn a tragedy into a lesson and educate students about illnesses, gun safety and other topics.

"If a student dies of an illness, they wonder if they are going to get it," said crisis team member Carolyn Donegan, a registered nurse with the Washington County Health Department. "If there's an auto accident they wonder about the times they drove too fast."

Parents should talk with their children about what's happening and make sure they eat right and stay active, Wolverton said.

With some tragedies, it's a struggle for the crisis team members to deal with the situation themselves so they can help others, Wolverton said.

At the end of a day when the crisis team has been called upon, members of the team participate in a debriefing, which is their time to vent and sometimes cry, he said.

Even members of the crisis team who are educated about stress need to talk through what they are feeling, he said.

"Sometimes we don't recognize the symptoms when they happen to us," he said.

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